Choking First Aid for Puppies

Saving Your Pet With the Heimlich Maneuver

Shar-Pei Pitbull Puppy Laying on Couch
Lisa Van Dyke / Getty Images

Choking can be a hazard for puppies, who are notorious for grabbing, tasting and chewing anything within reach. When an object lodges in the throat or windpipe, puppies can become frantic as they try to dislodge it with gagging, retching, and coughing. They might paw their mouths or rub their face against the ground.

If the object blocks the airway, choking can kill your puppy. For example, a small toy can seal the throat like a cork in a bottle and cause suffocation. You’ll need first aid to save your puppy’s life. If you hear wheezing, air is getting through, but even a partial blockage could cause fainting.

First Aid for Choking

Only try these tips a couple of times. Don't delay if unsuccessful—speed to the emergency room for help.

  • Restrain your puppy. You can’t help your dog if it is flailing around, and it may bite you out of panic when you try to look inside its mouth.
  • Stick out the dog's tongue. Use a cloth to grip and pull the tongue out of the way. This action may actually help dislodge the object. If the conscious pup will allow it, use tongs or needle-nose pliers to try and grasp the object.
  • Cut the stick. Sometimes chewed sticks or pieces of bone lodge across the roof of the mouth, and cutting the object in the middle with something like bolt cutters releases the pressure so it can be removed.
  • Compress the chest. Gentle compressions on both sides of the pup’s chest (while it’s standing) may force enough air out to dislodge the object.
  • Use the standing Heimlich maneuver. Puppies are shaped differently than people but the same principle applies. For a small pup, hold its back against your stomach (head up, paws down), and find the soft hollow under the ribs. Your closed fist should fit into this spot. Pull up and in two or three times, toward your own tummy, using a thrusting motion.
  • Use the kneeling Heimlich. If your pup is too big to lift, place it on its side and kneel behind its back. Place your closed fist in the hollow under its rib cage, and push upward and inward sharply, in the direction of the pup’s head and your knees. Remove the object once it jars loose. If it doesn’t, you can continue the Heimlich in the back seat of your car while somebody drives you to the vet clinic for help.
  • Turn on the air conditioning. Since puppies stay cool by panting, ​when they choke on something and can’t breathe they also have trouble staying cool. During the car ride to the vet, be sure you have the air conditioning blowing.

In most cases, getting rid of the choking obstruction allows the pup to begin breathing again on its own. But if it doesn’t, you may need to give your dog rescue breathing to jump-start the respiration.

After Care

Once the foreign object that choked your puppy is removed, there may be damage to the inside of the mouth or throat. That can take many days to heal, and can also make it hard or painful for the puppy to eat its regular food. Soften your dog's normal diet by running it through the blender with warm water.

It’s a good idea to have your puppy checked out by the veterinarian, even if your first aid manages to get rid of the choking hazard. Your puppy might bite its own tongue or the inside of the mouth, or the foreign object could have left abrasions. These injuries might need you to give your puppy medication to prevent infection.

It’s best to puppy proof your dog’s toys and supervise playtime outside. Anything that doesn’t move faster than your dog does could be a choking hazard waiting to happen. Even if they don't produce choking, swallowed objects can prove dangerous if they cause an intestinal blockage rather than passing through and out in the stool.